My family and I moved to Stroud street in 1997, when I was four years old. Anytime one of us refers to "the old stroud house", there’s always immediate tension. Although it has been beautifully remodeled, we still fall silent whenever we go back to that town and happen to pass by it.
We were a poor family, and it was a cheap find. $300 a month for two bedrooms in a decent town seemed like a miracle. My father was a recovering alcoholic, and needed a stable environment that was far away from the roots of his disease. This place felt like a second chance, a lucky break in life. If only we had known how wrong that was.
My brother was twelve at the time, and he was the first of us to experience odd things in the house. He’s always been a logical person, so we found it strange when he started taking jogs at two in the morning. We shared a room, and I was often awoken by him shuffling around for his running clothes and shoes. He didn’t seem to like being home at night.
When confronted about the issue, he told my parents it was nothing. He stuck to that until one day, he came running and shouting from the bathroom. He claimed that my mother’s hair dryer was flipping repeatedly from high to low levels, and then off, with no evident cause. That’s when he admitted that he thought "something" was trying to drive him crazy. He revealed that he had been discovering his possessions mysteriously moved to unlikely places (i.e. the kitchen, bathroom cabinet, even the backyard). This would have been entirely normal for myself or my disorganized mother. My father and brother were fairly precise people, though. My brother also complained that he was being disturbed by footsteps through the hall. He was tired of checking night after night, only to find the hallway empty.
Our parents saw his complaints as natural childhood fears. My father tended to mock the issue. He always felt that a humorous approach could lighten any situation. Therefore, when I began seeing "Smokey", he simply laughed and said we should invite my "little friend" to dinner some time.
I was up late one night, as I often was due to very unsettling nightmares. I recall watching the TV guide roll through while I sat on the living room floor. I was five by then, and couldn’t read much. I just liked the TV guide’s steady movement and color palette. I’m not sure why I looked up, I just suddenly felt that I should. That’s when I saw what I called "Smokey". It was in the corner of the ceiling, and really didn’t have much of a form. It just looked like a collection of revolving smoke. The odd thing I’ll never forget is that I wasn’t afraid at all. I was actually slightly hypnotized by it. That is, until I woke up the next morning. I ran to my parents, terrified. I had apparently fallen asleep right there on the floor. My mother was alarmed by my intensity, but she still wouldn’t let herself believe that it was anything legitimate.
That event was forgotten until we brought our pitbull, Bullet, home. He was a very good tempered animal at first. Our family began losing significant sleep when he decided to relentlessly bark at the corner that I saw "Smokey", though. He stopped eating, drinking, playing, or anything except staring and grumbling at that same spot.
That was when my mother came clean about some of her own irking experiences. She silenced herself after my father’s angry response. He found it childish that she would succumb to such nonsense. He responded to a lot of things angrily those days. He had a background of mental setbacks, but it wasn’t until we lived there for a few years, that he was diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. He fell off the deep end. He started drinking again, hearing voices, taking multiple antidepressants, and began getting rid of things he blamed for our family’s ridiculousness. He had no valid reason for selling Bullet, really. No valid reason except that he felt the dog was to blame for us believing the house was haunted. He had formed many bizarre ideas like that.
Things got unbearable after my father decided to walk through the house and do his own "exorcism". He made us follow him and shout mocking things to the air. He called the spirit a "coward", commanded it to prove itself, etc. He acted as if he’d won a grammy when nothing immediately happened.
From then on, not a day went by without lights flickering, items disappearing, dishes breaking, and company being too uncomfortable to visit. My father decided to admit defeat and find out the history of our house.
The previous tennants were an older couple with no family but eachother. The woman became the town loon after her husband passed away. She told people that she couldn’t stay in the house because her husband’s spirit kept her up at night. She was bothered by his footsteps constantly pacing the hallway. My father made the decision to move us out after that.
We found a nice place in a neighboring town. My father fell in love with it because it reminded him of his grandfather’s house. We were due to move in after a few weeks.
My mother, brother, and I did move in. My father didn’t because he died in the stroud house. I was nearing eight years old. It would be foolish to credit ghosts for his death. I wouldn’t even think of playing with that idea. He had ruined his liver by mixing so many antidepressants with excessive alcohol. He was his own demise.
My brother and I have a bet these days. The neighbors we had on Stroud were our best childhood friends. They kept us updated on new tennants until they also moved a couple of years ago. My brother and I have always bet on how long each new tennant would last before packing up and moving. It’s usually an average of four months or so. The place looks perfectly innocent now. Where once was a $300 monthly dump, is now a $900 monthly beauty. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to help it hold onto tennants. I’d like to pretend that I don’t know why. But instead, I see another different family there, and feel sad for them. Then I turn to my brother and say, "I give three months for this one". He chuckles as the tension lifts and says, "You’re on."